These FAQs helped me put 2 and 2 together. I knew that eating flax, chia seeds, hemp etc was bad for you because they were ALA's. ALAs are bad because it puts extra work on your body to convert that ALA to EPA/DHA, more work than is worth it. What clicked for me was the "work" being put on your body was causing more inflammation. Learning how animals and fish create omega-3's made me realize we get to "outsource" the conversion of ALA's to EPA/DHA to fish and animals.
FAQs from Whole9 Life
Q: Where do Omega-3 fatty acids come from?
A: Omega-3 fatty acids are found in the green leaves of plants, like grass, phytoplankton, algae and seaweed. This is the food that OUR food is designed to eat, which makes grass-fed beef, pastured organic eggs, and most importantly, certain types of fish (wild-caught fish and fish lower on the food chain, like herring, anchovy, sardine and mackerel) are good, natural sources of omega-3′s. Unfortunately, due to poor meat quality, and over-consumption of fast foods, processed foods, and vegetable oils, most of our diets are lacking in these essential fatty acids (and overly rich in pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids).
Q: So why can’t I just eat grass or seaweed to get my omega-3′s?
A: First, you don’t have the ability to digest grass properly. Moving on, omega-3′s are a family of fatty acids, and the “parent” molecule is called alpha-linolenic acid (abbreviated as LNA or ALA). The ALA from plants is converted by animals or fish to the potent anti-inflammatory omega-3′s called EPA and DHA by a long conversion process (see the discussion of ALA from plant seeds below). The ALA itself is not actually anti-inflammatory, and only a small percentage of ALA can be converted to EPA and DHA. Fish (and to a much lesser degree, land animals) do the metabolic work to convert the plant-based ALA into concentrated EPA and DHA. Fish oil is already a concentrated source of EPA and DHA, which is why fish oil has such potent anti-inflammatory properties.
Q: Why can’t I get my omega-3′s from flax?
A: There are countless problems with getting your omega-3′s from this particular plant source. It requires an extremely inefficient conversion process – meaning your body has to do a lot of work to get the EPA and DHA you want out of the kind of fat found in flax (ALA). And the conversion pathway is fraught with difficulties that can, in fact, lead to MORE inflammation – the exact opposite of the intention. Finally, even if everything works perfectly, the amount of EPA and DHA you can actually convert from flax is so small it practically doesn’t count. (By the way, the story is the same whether you’re talking about flax, chia, hemp or echium.) Just stick with your fish oil.